The Goonies ‘r’ good enough for the NES…barely.
Most everyone who was a kid at the time would agree 1985’s The Goonies is a pretty great movie. It boasted slick production design, a classic Robert Louis Stevenson style adventure plot about hidden pirate treasure, and that rarest of things: An ensemble cast of child actors who didn’t suck. Plus Sloth. Sloth is the man. Considering I just got back from a vacation to Astoria, Oregon where I toured the shooting locations and even went out to the Cannon Beach overlook with a replica of the doubloon coin from the film to reenact one of the scenes…well, I guess you could say I’m a fan.
So when Konami released The Goonies II in 1987, I was all over it. Unlike a lot of others who played this one back when it came out, I wasn’t confused by the name. Many thought it was supposed to be based on an upcoming sequel to the movie, but I had actually played Konami’s earlier Goonies game in arcades before and the resemblance is unmistakable. These days, the existence of this original Goonies game for the Famicom and its limited arcade release in North America is common knowledge, but it was easy enough to overlook at the time. Of course, Konami had also released a third Goonies game for the MSX computer system in Japan, so I guess we should be thankful they didn’t call this The Goonies III and really mess with our heads.
Coming off The Legend of Zelda and Metroid, I was primed for more games that combined action with exploration and secret hunting. Goonies II fit the bill, and I spent countless hours bombing and hammering every nook and cranny of the Fratellis’ hideout looking for hidden passages and items. That’s why it’s really tough for me to overcome my nostalgic attachment to this game long enough to admit it’s actually pretty bad.
This time, the Fratellis (the family of crooks who pursued our heroes in the movie) are back and they’ve kidnapped all your fellow Goonies as well as Annie! Who’s Annie? The mermaid, of course. You remember her, right? Yeah, even before you’ve made it past the title screen, you’ve already been given your first hint of how downright weird this game can be. Brace yourself, because you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Starting up the game, things seem fairly promising. A nifty chiptune version of the beloved “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” song by Cyndi Lauper kicks in and you find yourself controlling Mikey Walsh in traditional side-scrolling platformer style. Your task is to explore the Fratellis’ maze-like hideout and rescue all six of your missing Goonie pals plus the inexplicable Annie. Everything looks and sounds decent by 1987 standards, Mikey controls pretty well, and his main weapon, a yo-yo, is fun to use. These action scenes aren’t exactly great, but you’re probably having an okay time battling snakes, spiders, and the occasional gangster.
It’s only when you step inside one of the numerous doors scattered around the hideout that things start to go south fast. Surprise! Goonies II is also a first person point-and-click adventure game like Déjà Vu or Shadowgate! A really half-baked and boring one. Using a menu of basic commands, you can move between screens, punch walls to reveal hidden items, and use a small selection of tools you find during your quest (a hammer to uncover secret doors, a candle to light up dark areas, and so on). This had the potential to be compelling stuff. Unlike in the similarly-structured games mentioned above, however, there are no true puzzles to solve, cool locations to see, or even entertaining text descriptions of your actions to read. Just the exact same plain square rooms, where you’ll be expected to robotically run down your list of commands trying each one before moving on. There’s nothing challenging or stimulating to be found in these portions of the game. You simply perform every possible action in a given room before moving on to the next. See a blank wall? Try the glasses. No result? Punch the wall. Still nothing? Try the hammer. Now do the exact same thing with every other wall in the game. Every. Other. Wall. Even when this repetitive and agonizingly slow process does actually result in finding a hidden passage or item, you don’t get the satisfaction of feeling clever or accomplished. What else were you going to do? Not hammer that wall?
You’ll occasionally meet with an NPC character in one of these rooms and they’re simultaneously one of the best and worst things about Goonies II. The best because they’re usually abject weirdos spouting hilarious badly-translated gibberish and the worst because they almost never do or say anything useful. There’s a surprising number of generic old people, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, an Eskimo named Eskimo, and a superhero called Konami Man (who later starred in Konami Wai Wai World on the Famicom), among others. At least Konami Man will heal you when you visit him, so he’s okay by me. The others will mostly do stuff like tell you the room you’re currently in that warps you to another part of the map is a warp zone (really!?) or declare “It’s fun to play The Goonies 2!” Brilliant.
So the first person segments are a wretched slog, but even the platforming segments have issues which become apparent as you play on. For starters, there’s absolutely no challenge to be found. Oh, there are plenty of ways to die. Enemies, bottomless pits, lava, all that stuff. There’s simply no incentive not to bite the dust constantly, since you can instantly continue from the same screen you lost your last life on as many times as you want. You lose any expendable items like keys and bombs you may be carrying, but these drop all the time from random enemies, so you’re constantly picking up more. Combine this with the fact that some of the late game foes can take a dozen or more yo-yo hits before they finally go down and you have a game where you’ll be sorely tempted to just plow right through enemies heedless of the damage sustained just to save time getting from point A to point B. Not exactly riveting stuff.
How about the bizarre map system? There’s actually two maps of the hideout, labeled as “front” and “back.” You transition between the two sides by passing through certain doors and reaching a given destination usually requires taking a specific series of doors, going back and forth between the two sides multiple times in the process. If all this sounds stupidly baffling and unintuitive in the abstract, I can assure you it’s just as bad in practice. I played Goonies II so much as a kid that I can still complete it without a map or a walkthrough by my side to this day, but unless you did the same, count on getting very lost very fast.
Did I mention there are no bosses? Because there aren’t. Not one. And the last straw? The very worst thing of all? No Sloth.
Despite it all, I still can’t make myself hate The Goonies II. It filled a void at a time when complex adventure style games were still few and far between on the NES. It’s got some great music and it’s very, very strange. It may even qualify as an influential title. I’ve always suspected Mike Jones, the hero of Nintendo’s later StarTropics games, was inspired by Konami’s take on Mikey Walsh. The names, the red hair/blue shirt combo, the yo-yos. Both of them even hail from right here in the great Pacific Northwest. If it’s some of kind of coincidence, it’s a wild one.
Konami was doing a lot of experimenting with integrating RPG and adventure game elements into its platformers around this time. If you’re interested in what happened when they (mostly) succeeded at it, I’d say to check out Getsu Fūma Den. If you want a good Goonies game specifically, try the original for the Famicom. It has all the strengths of Goonies II’s action bits while also being much more accessible and challenging.
But The Goonies II? I feel like I’m babysitting, except I’m not getting paid.